Winston-Salem and Nigeria in the 1950s

13swimmingWas there a connection between the 1950s Nigerian movement for independence and the civil rights movement in Winston-Salem?

Elaine Neil Orr’s new novel, “Swimming Between Worlds,” is based on this premise. The North Carolina State University professor grew up as a child of American missionaries in Nigeria. Her experiences gave a beautiful and true spirit to her first novel, “A Different Sun,” about pre-Civil War Southern missionaries going to Black Africa to save souls.

Instead of slaveholding Southerners preaching to Nigerian blacks, the new book contrasts the cultural segregation of 1950s Winston-Salem with that in Nigeria.

Although Nigerians were coming to a successful end of their struggle for independence from Great Britain, they were still mired in the vestiges of colonial oppression.

Set in these circumstances is a coming-of-age story and a love story. These themes are complicated, and enriched, by the overlay of the Nigerian struggle and the civil rights protests in Winston-Salem.

The main male character, Tacker Hart, had been a star high school football player who then earned an architectural degree at N.C. State. He was selected for a plum assignment to work in Nigeria on prototype designs for new schools.

Working in Nigeria, this typical Southern, white male became so captivated by Nigerian culture, religion and ambience that his white supervisors fired him and sent him home. Back in Winston-Salem, the discouraged and depressed Tacker takes a job in his father’s grocery.

The female lead character, Kate Monroe, is the daughter of a Wake Forest history professor. Her parents are dead. After graduating from Agnes Scott College, she left Atlanta and her longtime boyfriend, James, to return to Winston-Salem and live in the family home where she grew up.

How Tacker wins Kate from James is the love story that forms the spine of this book. But there are complications created by a young African-American college student who is taking time off to help with family in Winston-Salem.

Tacker and Kate first meet Gaines on the same day. After Gaines buys a bottle of milk at the Hart grocery store, white thugs attack him for being in the wrong place (a white neighborhood) at the wrong time. Later on the same day, Kate spots an African-American man holding a bottle of milk, walking by her home in an upper class white neighborhood. She thinks he probably stole the milk. She is terrified and immediately locks her doors and windows. She shakes with worry about the danger of this young black man walking through her neighborhood. The young man is, of course, Gaines.

It turns out that Gaines is the nephew of Tacker’s beloved family maid. Tacker and his father hire Gaines to work in the grocery store, and he becomes a model employee.

But Gaines has a secret agenda. He is working with the group of outsiders to organize protest movements at lunch counters in downtown retail stores.

Gaines sets out to entice Tacker to help with the protests – first, only to allow the store to be used at night for a meeting place. Then, over time, Tacker is led to participate in the sit-ins.

In Nigeria, Tacker had found his black colleagues and friends to be just as smart, interesting and as talented as he was. He found them to be his equals.

Back in Winston-Salem, he had at first slipped back into a comfort level with the segregated and oppressive culture in which he grew up. His protest activities with Gaines put his relationships with his family, with Kate, and his possible employment at an architectural firm at risk.

Tacker’s effort to accommodate his growing participation in the civil rights movement with his heritage of segregation leads to the book’s dramatic, tragic and totally surprising ending.

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What’s onstage at local theaters this season?

01coverUAC0071118001The greater Fayetteville area is graced with several outstanding theaters, each offering something unique to local audiences. In the heat of a Carolina summer, here are some performances to look forward to once the weather cools and the curtains rise on a great variety of theatrical productions.

Cape Fear Regional Theatre

Cape Fear Regional Theatre has been entertaining Fayetteville since the early 1960s. CFRT resides in a three-story complex where is serves more than 42,000 patrons each year, including almost 7,000 students.

The 2018-19 season opens Sept. 20 with “Music City.” This modern country musical is set in Nashville and tells the story of three young songwriters who are broke but ambitious. With great music, grit and a lot of heart, this show has all the makings of a hit with notes both old and new. The show runs through Oct 7.

Oct. 25-Nov. 11, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” based on the 2004 novel of the same name, tells the backstory of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the rest of the characters from the much-loved story. In true Peter Pan “never grow up” spirit, the adventure includes pirates, friendships and, of course, heroes.

Little Orphan Annie captured America’s heart in the 1920s in a comic strip in the New York Daily News. By 1930, she had her own radio show. She was in films in 1932 and 1938. She took Broadway by storm in 1977, and she’ll be onstage Jan. 24-Feb. 17, along with Daddy Warbucks, for a fun-filled adventure at CFRT.

Dalton Trumbo. He was a screenwriter and novelist. He was blacklisted and sent to prison for standing up to the House Un-American Activities committee in 1947 when the committee investigated communism’s influences in the film industry. A member of the Hollywood Ten, he continued to work using pen names and winning awards. This two-character play runs Feb. 28-March 17.

Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Cake” tells the story of a North Carolina native who comes home to get married. Her choice of partners causes quite the stir. A comic drama, “The Cake” will onstage April 4-21.

Rhythm and Blues close out the season with “Memphis,” a Broadway show with four Tony Award wins in 2010, including Best Musical. Take a journey to 1950s Memphis with its African-American clubs for a tale of unlikely fame and forbidden love.

For tickets and more information, visit

Gilbert Theater

The Gilbert Theater prides itself on being a semi-professional theater that produces creative, innovative plays and events to stir audiences and students of its conservatory to explore and contemplate the human condition through the talents of local and guest artists.

“Godspell” opens Gilbert’s season Sept. 21 and runs through Feb. 17. Based on the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, “Godspell” turns parables into a musical.

A perennial favorite, “It’s a Wonderful Life” runs Nov. 23-Dec.16. Based on the 1946 movie starring James Stewart, the play tells the story of George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence. Bailey is ready to give up and end it all until Clarence shows George that each life really does matter.

Feb. 1-17 features “Doubt,” which played on Broadway in 2005 and 2006, winning the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. Set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx in 1964, Sister Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of being inappropriate with an altar boy. She pulls out all the stops to make her case, wreaking havoc along the way.

C.S. Lewis’ classic “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” opens April 5 and runs through April 21. In the land of Narnia, talking animals and mythical creatures are the norm as Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan Pevensie take on the White Witch.

“The Laramie Project” closes the season, running May 30-June 9. In 1998, gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming. The play retells the story based on hundreds of interviews with citizens of the town.

Visit or call 910-678-7186 to learn more.

Sweet Tea Shakespeare

Founded in 2012, Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s mission is to “celebrate the wonder of Shakespeare’s inventions of language, story and stagecraft by providing simple, elemental, magical theatre experiences of his and other remarkable works in an accessible atmosphere of beauty and community.”

Aug. 21-Sept. 2, “The Comedy of Errors” plays at the 1897 Poe House at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex and continues Sept. 5-8 at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. One of Shakespeare’s early plays, mistaken identity and a bit of slapstick combined with wordplay and puns make this a must-see.

Modifying plays to accommodate improvisation and audience participation, the LIT series will perform at various locations throughout October and November, including at Paddy’s Irish Public House Oct. 4, 11 and 18, and at Fainting Goat Brewing Company Oct. 25. Taking the tragedy of “Othello” and making it a bit lighter, the troupe said of the show: “The lighter signatures of the LIT series blend with the darker notes of the story for a bold and satisfying new flavor with an element of jealousy.”

Dec. 6-8 and 13-15, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church hosts “Behold: A Folk Christmas Cantata.” Celebrate the season with STS’ musical performance. With a full slate of Christmas songs to share, the cantata is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit.

STS presents “Sweeney Todd” Jan. 17-Feb. 2 at Fayetteville Pie Company. Sweeney Todd first appeared in a story called “The String of Pearls” in 1846. A relatively modern story for the troupe, don’t miss the misadventures of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett.

“Maid Marian,” part of STS’ Honey series, plays April 25-28 at Fayetteville State University and May 2-5 and 9-12 at the Poe House. The Honey series showcases women through shows with strong female casts. What will that mean for this interpretation of the Robin Hood story?

The season ends with “Richard III” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in repertory June 4-23 at the Poe House.

Learn more about STS at or by calling 910-420-4383.

Givens Performing Arts Center

Located at UNC Pembroke, GPAC offers great variety this season, opening with an artist-inresidence performance of the farcical historical romance “The Three Musketeers” Sept. 20-21.

“Jessica & Niels Magic and Juggling Variety Act” presents mind-blowing magic and zany comedy bits on Sept. 28. Jessica Jane Petersen has appeared on Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” TV show. Niels Duinker is a Guinness World record juggler, who currently holds the record for most cups (14) juggled at once.

The Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra: A Night of John Williams is set for Oct. 5. From “Harry Potter” to “JAWS,” “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” the music of John Williams is some of the most celebrated in movie history.

As a part of UNCP’s homecoming celebration, GPAC presents “Hotel California: A Salute to the Eagles” on Oct. 19. With three decades of experience, this band has performed with such groups as REO Speedwagon and The Doobie Brothers.

“Comte Dracula: A New Musical Drama” was written by Lumberton native and award-winning composer of classical and Broadway music, Mark Andersen. “Comte Dracula” is an original musical making its world premiere on the stage of GPAC Oct. 27.

A perennial favorite, “UNCP Holiday Extravaganza” takes place Nov. 30. The faculty, staff and students of the UNCP music department present their 10th annual concert of holiday favorites. Proceeds go to music scholarships at UNCP.

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” takes the stage Dec. 2. Come and get in the holiday spirit with Rudolph, the Abominable Snow Monster and all your favorite characters.

Enjoy the hit songs of Motown Jan. 12 with “Good for The Soul – Motown Revue.”

Feb. 20, “Cinderella: The Broadway Musical” brings Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Tony Awardwinning “Cinderella” musical to the Sandhills.

The Russian Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” returns to GPAC March 11. Formed in 1989, The Russian Ballet has achieved worldwide acclaim for its performances.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, a Scottish bagpipe band, will rock GPAC March 20. Not to be confused with the world-famous American rock band, The Red Hot Chili Pipers hail from Scotland and have become well-known for their incredible covers of songs by Journey, AC/DC, and even songs like “Amazing Grace.”

Four members of the original “Jersey Boys” cast make up The Midtown Men. Join this dynamic group of Tony Award winners and nominees for a memorable night of classic 1960s hits April 15.

For more information about the shows or to become a season subscriber or renew past subscriptions, call the GPAC Box Office at 910-521-6361 or visit

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Green Tea offers fresh new opportunity for young performers

09GreenTeaWhether due to personal passion or well-meaning parents, most adults can remember participating in a summer camp skit or school play at some point in his or her childhood. As a tree, as a star, as part of the warbling chorus, performing as a young person is usually an indelible experience. Sweet Tea Shakespeare, a local theater company known for its whimsy, creativity and live music, recently introduced a new opportunity for performers ages 12-17: Green Tea.

“Green Tea is not merely a class or camp activity, but over time will be closely integrated in the company as a way of fostering new talent,” said Jeremy Fiebig, STS artistic director and president.

Green Tea, which kicked off this March, is headed by Jennifer Pommerenke, STS general manager. She’s the previous assistant program director for Camp Kahdalea in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and she’s worked for Carnival Cruise Lines’ youth department. She said Green Tea is a program in which young people learn to create their own acting process and then perform in a show to put what they’ve learned into practice.

“Since the company and ensemble’s structure is such a vital component to Sweet Tea Shakespeare, we wanted to create a mini version of that (with Green Tea),” she said.

STS’ structure is similar to a medieval craft guild. It’s composed of committed members who contribute in a variety of ways, giving each other feedback and learning from each other’s strengths and mistakes.

Pommerenke said building friendships is an important part of Green Tea, too. At the start of each monthly two-hour session, she said, everyone warms up with improvisation games.

“At this pivotal point in their lives, this helps them learn how to listen to each other,” she said. “They’re games with no lines, no direction, no text. They really have to listen to one another to build a story that makes sense.” Next, they read chunks of Shakespearean text with the goal of processing and understanding the words together. The session ends with an acting lesson.

“I take what the kids want to learn and where they are at in the process and build it off of that,” Pommerenke said. “I am catering it (to) who they are and what they enjoy. I can see ... what gives them life, joy and delight and say that’s what I want to do next class.”

Various STS company members and visiting artists also come in and teach classes.

Green Tea’s first production will be a shortened adaptation of “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare’s romantic comedy about twins separated in a shipwreck. Pommerenke said the show will open some
time after Christmas.

“We are hoping a couple Masters can come in and take some small parts,” Pommerenke said, referring to high-level STS company members who often play leading roles in STS productions. “That lets Green Tea know they are part of the company.”

She said “Twelfth Night” will also feature a version of STS’ pre-show, a chance for actors to sing or dance in the half hour leading up to the start of the play.

Registration for Green Tea is rolling, and interested students can drop in for a free trial class prior to joining. Green Tea meets one Sunday per month at the Capitol Encore Academy, 126 Hay St. Ages 12-14 meet 1-3 p.m. Ages 15-17 meet 3:30-5:30 p.m. Students sign up for one year at a time.

For more information, email Pommerenke at or visit To learn more about Sweet Tea Shakespeare and its 2018-19 season, visit


PHOTO CREDIT: Megan Dohm, Thistle and Sun Photography

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‘Standpoint: A Group Exhibition’ showcases artists and educators

01Cover UAC0070418001“Standpoint: A Group Exhibition” at Gallery 208 opens Tuesday, July 10, with a reception from 5:30-7 p.m. It showcases a joining of 11 artists who work as higher education art faculty in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Higher education art faculty in this city are like all other universities and community colleges faculty. As members of the faculty they have three roles: teaching, service and scholarship. In the area of teaching, each day is different, with unexpected situations to resolve and new material or techniques to research and apply. Service can be for the department, the university, the community, professional service or all four. Then there is scholarship, the making of new works of art if you’re a faculty member who teaches a studio class.

What’s unusual is that many of the full-time fine art faculty from competing schools in Fayetteville have come together to build their personal relationships as practicing artists – not as educators – by creating a comradery of support and even to have an occasional potluck dinner together.

It all began with an idea after the director of Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery, Calvin Mims, brought several artists together to talk about initiatives for the community and what the faculty needed. Mims started by inviting full-time and part-time art faculty from Fayetteville Technical Community College, Methodist University and Fayetteville State University to do the recent group show titled “Higher Ed Fayetteville Art Faculty Exhibition.” That lead to a couple of potluck dinners and discussions about enrichment for each other as artists.

“Standpoint: A Group Exhibition” at Gallery 208 is the result of those discussions over dinner. The artists from academe include Vilas Tonape from Methodist University; Callie Farmer, Katey Morrill and Robin Teas from Fayetteville Technical Community College; and Shane Booth, Dwight Smith, Vicki Rhoda, Jonathan Chestnut, Skylor Swann, Dwight Smith and yours truly from Fayetteville State University.

The 11th artist is Christopher Happel. Happel is employed at Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery and is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, focusing on the medium of sculpture. The group, New Vision Collaborative, wanted Happel to be part of the first-year initiative since he is a millennial among seasoned artists. All were interested in the insights of a young millennial who is also a dedicated artist. For Happel, he’s happy to be able to interface and exhibit with experienced artists and educators.

“Standpoint: A Group Exhibition” includes a lot of variety since each artist brings his or her own expertise, style and purpose for creating works of art. Two works were selected by each artist for the exhibit; the range of media includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics and prints. “Standpoint: A Group Exhibition” is the kickoff event for a year of collaboration among the participants in what they’re calling the New Vision Collaborative.

After one year of collaborating with each other in workshops to share technical information, provide support for artists to try new mediums, and to offer group critiques and discussions, another exhibition will take place June 2019 at Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery titled “Standpoint: 365.”

The Fayetteville area has embraced many art initiatives and alliances to improve the arts locally over the years. But, this group of artists/educators has one common goal – to enrich themselves and maybe others along the way. Dwight Smith from FSU noted, “We have a connection between the three schools – a passion for the arts, and intellectual exchange.

Calvin Mims commented, “All of the artists in this group are continually engaged in the pursuit of excellence.”

Callie Framer, a printmaker from FTCC, reminded our group that students have us (their teachers) and each other to critique their work. Yet, as professionals, it would be helpful to have professional critiques. For students, seeing us exhibit together offers a good example of the continued efforts of local art faculty. Faculty can share techniques and strategies about how to stay creatively focused instead of falling victim to teacher burn-out.

Already, during the dinners, members of New Vision Collaborative have had discussions about relevant websites and ways to engage the public with unfamiliar styles. The next meeting will include creating a calendar of events for the group and more events for the public to attend.

Skylor Swann, a new ceramicist at FSU, noted he was interested in participating since he wanted to share new research, process and materials. As well, he is interested in looking at what artists are not doing and examining his own personal growth as an artist. He said, “We all bring something different to the collaborative – life experiences and viewpoints.”

Jonathan Chestnut brings his interest and knowledge of technology to the collaborative. Chestnut teaches the computer graphic classes at FSU and has always been interested in sculpture. During the last eight years, in addition to teaching, his focus has been on ways to apply technology to fine art. From laser cutters to 3D modeling, Chestnut has influenced artists in his department to use technology. In “Standpoint: A Group Exhibition,” Chestnut is exhibiting layered wall reliefs created by using the laser cutter at FSU.

Vicki Rhoda, the new art education instructor at FSU, was quick to point out how “we share with the community an identity and our expertise. By having exhibitions, we are demonstrating our belief in the importance of art and how art is a constructive interaction among people in public spaces.”

So, it will be an interesting year for New Vision Collaborative, culminating in the 2019 exhibition at Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery. The group is not interested in becoming a nonprofit organization but will remain open to change and choices. The year ahead will include discussing ideas in think-tank formats, sharing websites and suppliers, conducting workshops and critiques amongst the group, and planning events for the public to attend. By the end of the year, the artists will have been enriched and come to understand what works and what doesn’t work before expanding the group.

Calvin Mims was more than happy to have Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery be the central place for the group to meet and plan the activities. Mims said, “I think it’s important the New Vision Collaborative is thinking about what is missing in the community when it comes to the visual arts. As contemporary artists, it’s important the public sees the value and importance of contemporary art in a community. As well, your students will see that you do what you are encouraging them to do. So, coming together and having a presence in our community is relevant.”

The public is invited to attend the opening reception of “Standpoint: A Group Exhibition” at Gallery 208, located at 208 Rowan St., from 5:30-7 p.m. July 10. The show will be up until early September. The gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, call 910-484-6200.

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Liberal arts: The pay-off

12joseph robinsonCan the experience of worldrenowned musician and North Carolina native Joseph Robinson contribute to North Carolina’s ongoing dialogue about the purpose and value of higher education?

You be the judge.

Robinson’s recent memoir, “Long Winded: An Oboist’s Incredible Journey to the New York Philharmonic,” asks: How did a small-town boy who never attended conservatory persuade one of the world’s greatest conductors, Zubin Mehta, to give him a chance at one of the world’s most coveted positions in one of the world’s greatest orchestras?

Robinson grew up in Lenoir, finished Davidson College, spent a year in Germany on a Fulbright fellowship and did graduate study at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. Without the  focused, intensive conservatory training that is a usual prerequisite to a high-level performing career, his effort to build a life around his passion for the oboe was a struggle. He moved through a series of journeyman teaching and performing positions at the Atlanta Symphony, the North Carolina School of the Arts and the University of Maryland before he broke through to the top

Growing up in a small North Carolina town might not be the best background for an aspiring classical musician. But the mountain furniture community of Lenoir had the best high school band in the state. When Robinson was drafted to fill an empty oboe slot, his course was set.

He loved the oboe so much that his Davidson classmates called him “Oboe Joe.” But Davidson’s musical program lacked the professional music training that Robinson craved. He almost  transferred to Oberlin where there were more opportunities. Instead, he stayed at Davidson and majored in English, economics and the liberal arts, focusing on writing and expression

His success at Davidson led to a Fulbright grant and the opportunity to meet Marcel Tabuteau, whom Robinson says was the greatest player and oboe pedagogue of the 20th century. When Tabuteau learned that Robinson was an English major and a good writer who could help write his book on oboe theory, he agreed to give him oboe instruction. Those five weeks with Tabuteau, Robinson says, “more than compensated for the conservatory training I did not receive.”

Years later, Robinson still had not achieved his aspiration to land a first oboe chair in a major orchestra when Harold Gomberg, the acclaimed lead oboe of the New York Philharmonic, retired.

Audaciously, Robinson applied, and when finally granted an audition, he prepared endlessly. He was ready for the hour and 20 minutes of paces the audition committee demanded. Afterwards, he was confident that he had done very well.

But Philharmonic’s personnel manager, James Chambers, after saying how well the audition went, reported that music director Mehta judged Robinson’s tone “too strong” for the Philharmonic. He was not to be one of the two players who were finalists.

That should have been the end of it, but Robinson writes, “I knew that winning a once-in-a-lifetime position like principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic was like winning the lottery.”

At 3 a.m., he wrote Chambers explaining why his tone might have seemed too strong and, “You will not make a mistake by choosing Eric or Joe, but you might by excluding me if tone is really the issue.”

When Chambers read the letter to Mehta, they agreed that it could not have been “more persuasive or fortuitous.”

Chambers reported that Mehta said, “If you believe in yourself that much, he will hear you again.”

Robinson’s final audition was successful. “His winning lottery ticket,” he writes, “had Davidson College written all over it.”

How does Robinson’s experiences contribute to our higher education debate? Simply put, while training for jobs and careers is critical, liberal arts are the keys to special lifetime opportunities like Robinson’s “winning lottery ticket.”


PHOTO: Joseph Robinson

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